The Simple Secret to Taking the Best Travel Snaps

It was 2006 and I was trying very hard not to run in the Louvre. I had thirty minutes before my tour bus left Paris. Myself and a couple of other intrepid 20-somethings were on a mission to capture one of the world’s most famous paintings on film. As I rushed into the gallery, my heart sunk. Not only was the Mona Lisa seemingly the size of a postage stamp, but the area in front of it was five tourists deep.

Undaunted, I shouldered my way into the throng, held my brand new digital camera up in the air and snapped away. And got the top of someone’s head in the frame.

The Perfect Shot

If you’ve ever been to one of the world’s most photographed locations in person, you will know that the reality very rarely lives up to expectations. Why? Hoards of tourists! You may have seen one of those Buzzfeed-style articles floating about showing how the most iconic photography spots for travellers are often very rarely empty of people – unlike the beautiful photos in the guidebooks and on the internet.

Have you been to a place like Pisa and mugged your way through various poses with the tower along with literally thousands of others doing the exact same thing? Then you might despair of ever getting a good shot of a landmark sans people. Here’s one I took of the Golden Buddha in Bangkok – no hope of a photo without strangers in it that day.

But I’m here to tell you a secret: it is possible, with a little luck and a strategy: getting up early.

Beat The Crowds

Yes, I’m here to tell you that the early bird gets the worm. We’ve done it on a number of occasions, most recently at Top of the Rock in New York. Because we booked the first ascension time slot of the day, we were the amount the first tourists up and were rewarded with quite a long time to admire the amazing uninterrupted views of Manhattan.

I can’t even imagine what it’s like with a thousand people up there jostling to get close to the edge!

The thing is, we’ve found in a lot of places like the UK and the USA people don’t seem to like getting up early. Attractions seldom
open before 9am and lots of folk tend to linger over their breakfast buffet. On our first day sightseeing in LA recently, we got up so early to go to Griffith Observatory the only other people there were joggers! It was pretty amazing to just have a leisurely stroll around the building without the “tourist shuffle” I’d read about in peak times.

A Little Luck

And yes, at other times you can just get lucky. The day I went to Maya Beach (ie. The Beach) in Thailand we were one of only two powerboats there, and our group had the place practically to ourselves for a while. So I was able to get what I didn’t know at the time were some amazing shots almost empty of pesky tourists.

Google is Your Friend

One last thing: never forget Google. It often has a Peak Times chart for most popular locations around the world. So pop in where you’re going and plan accordingly. If you’re going to Disneyland for example, that being there first thing in the morning means less people and therefore shorter ride lines!

And what do you do if you just can’t avoid the crowds? Get creative with your photography. Be quick and snap something before someone comes around a corner. Or there’s the old fashioned way – push your way to the front!

Have you got any travel photography tips? Please share!

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